In their biggest game of the year, the Philadelphia Flyers came out swinging. That stellar first period proved just enough to give the team the win that they desperately needed.
Trailing the Detroit Red Wings by three points in the standings entering tonight's game, the Flyers outshot them 23-3 in the first period en route to a 4-3 triumph. Detroit cut the lead to one goal with four minutes left in the final stanza, but Steve Mason and his teammates were able to shut the door and move to within one point of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Mason made 34 saves, while his counterpart Petr Mrazek stopped 42 of his own. Michael Raffl led the way on offense with two goals, and Shayne Gostisbehere added a late second period tally for his 16th of the season and the eventual game-winner.
The Wells Fargo Center was rocking from the opening faceoff, but no amount of pregame festivities could have prepared them for the start from the hometown squad. After a tentative first few minutes, the Flyers simply blew the doors off a shellshocked Red Wings squad, outshooting them by a whopping 23-3 margin. It was Michael Raffl who got the party started, exploiting Detroit's aggressive neutral zone tactics by powering through a Kyle Quincey challenge, before sliding the puck around Mrazek to give the Flyers an early 1-0 lead.
Less than two minutes later, the Flyers would strike right off an attack zone draw. Claude Giroux quickly won the faceoff and passed back to Brayden Schenn, who ripped a quick shot on Mrazek. The Czech goalie made the initial stop, but was powerless to prevent Wayne Simmonds from recovering the rebound right on the doorstep and depositing it into the back of the net. That sent the already-loud Philadelphia crowd into an absolute frenzy, as their heroes were posting their best period of the season in the closest thing to a must-win game that the Flyers have faced all year.
Unsurprisingly, the Red Wings were not about to repeat their horrific first period in the next twenty minutes of play. A strong opening kick included a tally from Andreas Athanasiou, who got behind the Flyers' defense and then used his speed to beat Steve Mason to the far post. Undeterred, Philadelphia responded with a push of their own, and it was again Michael Raffl who would ensure that it would not be for naught. Raffl pounced on his own rebound in the slot and flipped it over Mrazek to extend Philadelphia's lead to two goals once again.
Detroit fought back. It would be their star, Pavel Datsyuk, who tightened the gap once more, beating Mason with a low wrist shot from the right faceoff circle. Now facing a resurgent Red Wings squad, the Flyers risked losing their advantage entirely entering the third period. But Shayne Gostisbehere would not let that happen. After preventing a Detroit clearing attempt, the rookie defenseman skated deep into the offensive zone and slid an attempted pass through the crease area. Instead, it ricocheted off Mike Green's skate and through the five-hole of Mrazek, giving the Flyers their two-goal lead back as the second period came to a close.
After a solid low-event start to the third period, the Red Wings began their formidable late push. Luckily for the Flyers, Steve Mason was there to shut the door, with his best save a blocker swat of a Henrik Zetterberg shot with seven minutes left. Mason made 20 saves in the period, but even he was not able to keep Detroit from cutting the lead to one goal with four minutes remaining. But a late slashing penalty by Gustav Nyquist just in front of the Philadelphia net sealed his team's fate, and gave the Flyers a huge win for their playoff push.
Questions to Answer:
- All four lines have been clicking lately -- which one steps up big for the Flyers in this one? In a shocking turn of events, I was most impressed with the fourth line centered by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. They added one tally (courtesy of Raffl, who took a spot shift with them) and were demons on the forecheck all game long.
- The Flyers are in the middle of one of the best stretches of defensive hockey they've played in a while. How do they hold up defensively tonight? Their best defense was a great forecheck, but when that began to dry up in the latter stages, Datsyuk and company was able to exploit the back end. Steve Mason bailed them out on multiple occasions late.
- On Detroit's side, Anthony Mantha is making his NHL debut tonight. Can the Flyers slow him and Pavel Datsyuk down? Mantha was very impressive, and nearly scored his first NHL goal but instead rang a shot off the post. Pavel Datsyuk was Pavel Datsyuk.
- Petr Mrazek has been one of the most impressive goalies in the league this year. Do the Flyers get to him? Mrazek had a so-so game, and the Flyers took full advantage.
- Please win. Sorry, let's rephrase that as a question: can you please win tonight, the Flyers? One point out, two games in hand. Playoffs?
Comment of the Night:
[Raffl] was holding X all the way down the side and then cut towards the center with the right joystick.
If he’s using a playstation, that is.